Op-ed: Immigration Goes Beyond Documentation

For LGBT immigrants, especially those escaping hostile conditions, the U.S. immigration system is a rude awakening. And it's long past time for Congress to do something.

BY Ronnie Veliz

December 11 2013 7:00 AM ET

Growing up as a queer child in Peru was difficult. I was an indigenous kid who witnessed young LGBTQ lives lost to terrorism during the '90s in Peru, and I lived in constant fear. My parents believed the Catholic Church could protect us as a family, but as an altar boy, I persistently was told that being gay is considered not only a sin, but an abomination. I feared that if I came out to my godfather, soccer teammates, Boy Scout troops, or marinera dance partners they would disown me. I felt invisible, inferior, and unfit.

When I was 11, I discovered a strange mass on my chest. I went to two different doctors in Peru, and both said it would go away on its own. At 12, I was introduced to counselors that falsely claimed that they could “repair” my sexual orientation. By the time I was 16, nine more lumps had appeared and I was facing depression. I prayed to God to help me resist my suicidal thoughts and decided to put my faith in action.

After I finished high school in La Libertad, Peru, I had no choice but to legally migrate to the U.S. for survival. I saw my chance of reuniting with my dad in California as crucial to fight for a permanent getaway to safety, to freely live as who I was born to be. At 17, I reunited with my father, and finally received the appropriate medical care. Coming to the United States saved my life, but I continued witnessing discrimination against people like me not only for being LGBTQ, but also for being immigrants. Sadly, I realized that the United States was not the place of which I dreamed and prayed.
 
LGBTQ immigrants face unique challenges in the U.S. In addition to homophobia and transphobia, we are also subjected to ethnic discrimination and racial profiling. Our immigration system is not broken — it intentionally works to classify some of us as “good immigrants” and others as “bad immigrants.” And the detention and deportation machine dehumanizes, scapegoats, and vilifies us.
 
Many people I know have been impacted by depression deeply rooted in lack of access to higher education, pervasive bullying, homelessness, and unemployment. Many of our neighbors are living in this country with the daily fear of being separated from their family and friends. Every day, 1,100 families in America are torn apart due to the ICE monster. While I came to the U.S. as a minor through legal channels, I can’t ignore that they are two of the 11 million people, including an estimated 267,000 LGBTQ immigrants, who are not as fortunate.
 
Immigration policies must improve the lives of millions of men, women, and children, not destroy us. Recently, House Democrats introduced an immigration reform bill much like the Senate’s version that passed with wide bipartisan support this summer. While neither of the bills are perfect, they go a long way to fix our immigration system. The legislation would improve the lives of millions of immigrants, including those who identify as LGBTQ. If passed, the legislation would eliminate the one-year ban on applying for asylum; improve conditions for people held in detention facilities; and limit the use of solitary confinement on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
 
Recently, I became a naturalized citizen, but citizenship has not been the answer to my problems. I still have encountered racial profiling on multiple occasions in the past 13 months. Clearly, immigrant rights are about racial justice, not solely about “papers.” I deeply believe that the U.S. can become the country I dreamt of as a boy, a place where people can be who they are and not fear their intersecting identities, the color of their skin, and being torn apart from our teachers, coworkers, and partners because we are perceived to not be legal.
 
I will continue to fight for liberation and healing justice, with folks from all walks of life, including LGBTQ undocumented immigrants.
 
We must not let Congress manipulate us into dividing our communities.
 
It is time to stop to the criminalization and dehumanization of all LGBTQ people, including undocumented LGBTQ folks. We must stop creating a culture where undocumented LGBTQ immigrants who join the U.S. Armed Forces personnel have access to special rights above the rest of the undocumented taxpayers who just want to work, study, and love unarmed. It is time for President Barack Obama to use his administrative power and expand DACA to include family members of all LGBTQ undocumented folks. It is time for the House to pass comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform.
 
It is about standing up for the dignity and respect of all immigrants, and collectively opposing Godless deportations proceedings, so one day in the very near future we can celebrate the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of all human beings who truly believe in family unity and family acceptance.

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